Trump Lashes Out at GOP as Defense Bill Augurs Senate Rebuke

President Donald Trump unleashed a bitter attack on fellow Republicans as the effort to override his veto of a $740.5 billion defense policy bill moves to the Senate after passing the House.

“Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW!” he added.

If the Senate follows suit as expected in the waning days of Trump’s presidency, it will be the first time one of his vetoes has been surmounted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, long a steadfast ally of the president, made clear that he wants to see the measure become law despite Trump’s objections.

“Not once in six decades has a Congress let its differences prevent it from completing this work for our national security and our men and women who wear the uniform,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “For the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, failure is simply not an option. So when it’s our turn in Congress to have their backs, failure is not an option either.”

But McConnell’s call to take a quick vote on the defense bill override on Wednesday was frustrated by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who demanded a vote as well on increasing pandemic aid from $600 to $2000 per person. In the tangled politics of the moment, that increase has been championed by Trump and Democrats and opposed by many Republicans. The impasse could delay the defense override vote until as late as Sunday.

The House vote on the defense bill on Monday was 322-87, handily exceeding the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto, with support coming from majorities of both Democrats and Republicans. The 212 Democrats and one independent voting to override Trump were joined by 109 Republicans.

Trump Lashes Out at GOP as Defense Bill Augurs Senate Rebuke

Trump vetoed the annual measure because he wanted to attach an unrelated provision to eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies from liability for most content published by their users. “A disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech,” Trump said in his Tuesday morning tweet.

He also took issue with the bill because it contains a provision for renaming military installations that honor Confederate generals. In his veto message, Trump called the bill a “gift” to China and Russia without clearly articulating his reasoning.

Trump Lashes Out at GOP as Defense Bill Augurs Senate Rebuke

“The president must end his eleventh-hour campaign of chaos, and stop using his final moments in office to obstruct bipartisan and bicameral action to protect our military and defend our security,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after the House vote.

Voting to override Trump’s veto reflects a widening rift between the president and some congressional Republicans, who stood by him through previous conflicts, as his influence ebbs. More GOP lawmakers in recent weeks recognized Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in an interview that rejection of the defense bill was an “impulsive, small-minded veto” that “was too irrational a move for Republicans to rationalize.”

Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a Republican ally of the president, said he voted to override the veto “because of the high probability that we are going to get a much worse bill for national security a month from now,” a reference to Biden’s approaching inauguration.

Many of Trump’s voters remain loyal to the president, while others share Republicans’ concerns. The split comes at a dangerous time politically for the GOP -- just a week before two runoff races in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate.

Troop Benefits

The defense bill, H.R. 6395, is considered must-pass legislation because it authorizes not only billions of dollars for weapons systems, but also benefits for U.S. troops. The measure would increase hazardous duty pay to $275 from $250 per month. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Trump ally who’s now at odds with the president, called the defense measure “the most important bill of the year.”

Trump Lashes Out at GOP as Defense Bill Augurs Senate Rebuke

It’s a point of bipartisan pride for members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees that the annual defense policy bill has been enacted without fail for the past 59 years.

The president and others on the right have long accused social media platforms of censoring conservatives, something that the technology giants deny. While lawmakers from both parties have called for modifying or even eliminating Section 230, even Trump allies said it was the wrong place and the wrong time to wage that battle.

The annual defense policy bill would authorize $732 billion in discretionary spending for national defense, including $69 billion for overseas contingency operations. It also authorizes funding for 93 F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The legislation would establish a commission to study and provide recommendations, within three years, on the removal of names, symbols, displays and monuments that honor or commemorate the Confederacy. It would also address diversity in the military ranks by requiring the removal of personal identifiers in promotion and selection pitches, a step backed by Democratic Representatives Jackie Speier of California and Anthony Brown of Maryland.

The defense measure would establish a Pacific deterrence initiative intended to counter China’s influence in the region. Congress plans to authorize $2.2 billion for the new effort designed to bolster the U.S. defense posture and weapons and alliances in the region.

Lawmakers took aim at Russia with provisions including additional sanctions on Turkey for purchasing a Russian made missile defense system, as well as penalties on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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